In 1991, Studio Ghibli released Isao Takahata’s gorgeously animated Only Yesterday in Japan.
Twenty-five years later, the film has finally made the trek across the ocean to the United States. I had never heard of the film and so when I watched the new English dub (starring the illustrious Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel), I had no idea what to expect.
By the end of the film I was on the floor crying, not because the film is particularly sad, but because it so beautifully captured the female experience. There are a million reasons you should go see this film, but here are my top three.
1. It Stars an Unmarried Woman But Isn’t a Love Story
Within the first few minutes of the film, Taeko (Daisy Ridley) is asked multiple times why she isn’t married yet or why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Taeko’s response is, “I’m young, I’m not in a rush, please let me live my life.”
Later, Taeko meets a man, but their relationship is a friendship with only very vague hints of romance. Instead of being about romance, Only Yesterday tells the story of a woman who takes a country vacation, dives into organic farming, and reflects on her life. This slice of life kind of film (especially about a woman) doesn’t really exist anymore and so it was incredibly exciting to watch.
2. There’s a Segment About Periods
You read that correctly, there is a good 20 minutes of the film that deals with that awkward time in fifth grade when girls start to get their periods and boys first learn what periods are.
The film is told in flashback structure, flashing between present Taeko and fifth grade Taeko. Takahata delicately explores the hardest moments of being ten years old in a way that had me wishing I had seen this film 15 years ago. Young Taeko’s problems are infantile but feel very real to her, which offers a beautiful look into the mind of a ten-year-old girl (a character not often explored in film).
2. No Women Are Sexualized at All
You heard me. This is a movie about a young woman and she is not sexualized. That very rarely happens anymore. She doesn’t even talk about sex and the only nudity is a brief shot of young Taeko in a hot bath, but her body is not sexualized, it is just there.
The amount of important feminist lessons packed into the two hours of Only Yesterday is impressive. What’s even more impressive is that a man made the film, but this did not hinder the impact it had on me.